By Michelle, Administrative Assistant and former Advocate at The Hotline
We are excited to bring back our Survivor Spotlight Series (formerly Survivor Series) with Heather, a 29–year–old woman living in Tennessee who has been able to find a life free from abuse after contacting The Hotline. Warning: This story contains descriptions of severe physical violence that may be triggering for some readers.
In 2007, Heather, then 19 years old, met a charming man who would soon become her boyfriend. Their relationship seemed great, but as soon as they moved in together, her partner became controlling and the two began fighting a lot. The first time he hit her, he apologized and the violence stopped—for awhile. The dynamic of their relationship gradually began to shift. Every time Heather disagreed with, questioned, or even had an opinion different than her partner’s, she would face violent consequences.
Heather’s partner engaged in emotionally abusive behaviors as well, telling her that the abuse was her fault, the sexual abuse and abandonment she experienced as a child were her fault, and that nobody would ever love her. “At first I didn’t believe it,” says Heather, “but eventually his words made sense because they gave an explanation for things I never understood.”
Pregnancy is one of the most dangerous times for survivors of abuse, and unfortunately that was true for Heather’s situation. Heather experienced two miscarriages because of the violence she was experiencing. During her third pregnancy, Heather was constantly sick, and the abuse continued. After she had her daughter, her husband’s behavior escalated. He chose what to name their daughter, made all the decisions surrounding her care, and even hit Heather while she was holding their baby. He bought a gun and slept with it under his pillow, even with their daughter in the bed. “He held it to my head so many times,” she told us. One day, Heather’s partner held her and her grandmother at gunpoint while he left with the child, eventually returning so she could breastfeed. “Multiple times I left, but every time he would go to my family’s house and threaten them or find me. I kept praying for him to change or for God to make a way out for me.”
Heather describes a situation in which others knew about the abuse, “People were afraid of him and even when they were around for it, they’d look the other way.” Her husband began seeing other women, and even brought them to their house (with their young daughter present) while Heather worked. In 2011, three years after her daughter was born, one of these women came to the house while Heather was home and the truth came out. “He flipped on her and then on me,” she says. “She called the police but it was almost too late for me.”
Heather’s partner broke her phone, as he had done many other times, and threw her face-first off their bed onto the floor, busting open her lip. He then poured rubbing alcohol into her mouth, forced her to swallow it, and held a knife to her throat while her daughter sat there, watching it all in tears. When her abuser found out that the cops were on their way, he locked himself in the bathroom with Heather, wrapping a beach towel around her head twice so her screams would not be heard. Fortunately, the police saw the light on, broke down the door, and arrested her partner that night.
Heather’s husband was affiliated with a gang, so she, determined to find a way out of her situation before he could send someone to come after her, decided to call The Hotline. Though the local shelter she connected to was full, they arranged for her to stay in a hotel for the night, provided her with personal hygiene supplies, and provided transportation to the shelter the next day. Ultimately, Heather sold everything she owned and left the area, living in three different shelters in a neighboring state to keep her and her daughter safe before eventually moving back home. Legal aid helped her file for divorce, and she has only seen her ex once since he was let out on probation after serving just nine months in prison. While he still tries to exert control by causing drama in her life, Heather has put up barriers from contact as a way to keep herself safer. Whereas in the past she had been unable to keep a steady job, Heather has been at her current position for three years, and is able to support her family.
Though she has been free from abuse for over five years and has since remarried to a loving, respectful man, there are still days when Heather struggles with those traumatic memories. However, she describes herself as a much stronger person now, and hopes her story will help other survivors feel empowered to leave their abusive situations, “I want them to know it’s not their fault and they can make it alone! Most people did not recognize what I was going through because I hid behind a smile. I was manipulated so badly by my ex-husband that I believed I deserved it, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has gone through that. No one deserves it. I left everything to get away, started over and rebuilt my life. I am living proof that you can get out and make it on your own.”
Thank you so much to Heather for sharing her experience with us and giving us permission to publish it here. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please call or chat with us today. Whether you are feeling strong enough to leave or want to explore how to stay safer in your relationship, our trained advocates are here 24/7/365 to provide support, guidance, and local resources.
Give a survivor a chance at life free from abuse today by donating to The Hotline.